The Unity of Intellect in Aristotle's De Anima

In: Phronesis
Author: Lloyd Gerson
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The perennial problem in interpreting De Anima 3.5 has produced two drastic solutions, one ancient and one contemporary. According to the first, Aristotle in 3.5 identi fies the 'agent intellect' with the divine intellect. Thus, everything Aristotle has to say about the human intellect is contained mainly in 3.4, though Aristotle returns to its treatment in 3.6. In contrast to this ancient interpretation, a more recent view holds that the divine intellect is not the subject of 3.5 and that throughout the work Aristotle is analyzing the nature of the human intellect. But this view contends that the properties Aristotle deduces for this intellect, properties that have encouraged the view that Aristotle must be speaking about a divine intellect, are in fact to be discounted or interpreted in such a way that they do not indicate the immortality and immateriality of the human intellect. In this article I argue that close attention to the text and the sequence of argument supports the conclusion that Aristotle is speaking throughout De Anima of a uni fied human intellect, possessed of the properties Aristotle explicitly attributes to it. This intellect functions diff erently when it is and when it is not separate from the hylomorphic composite. I argue further that it is Aristotle's view that if we were not ideally or essentially intellects, we could not engage in the diverse cognitive activities of this composite.

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